November is always “put up, or shut up” time in college football—but for the Miami Hurricanes in 2017, the stakes are again raised and everything is on the line.

Don’t fall for the misdirection this week delivered; chatter about College Football Playoffs rankings, the Canes “penalized” for close games or any fabricated, “us against the world” chatter any 305 conspiracy theorists will push regarding the media hating Miami and “them” not wanting to see “us” back on top again.

Third-ranked Notre Dame looms next weekend and while that is deemed a sexier match-up—it’s all about Virginia Tech right now, as everything Miami aimed to accomplish this season will be defined by a win or loss against the Hokies come Saturday, under the lights at Hard Rock Stadium.

A lot can happen over the span of a dozen years. In the same breath, a 12-year drought can feel like a lifetime when talking about a proud Miami football program that has been on the wrong end of history.

EXIT THE BIG EAST; ENTER THE ACC

The Hurricanes bolted the Big East in favor of the Atlantic Coast Conference after the 2003 season; a bigger television revenue share and post-season bowl pool split proving necessary for a private school with no real state funding or next-level boosters to grow the program into the new millennium.

For the ACC; a shiny new toy as the Canes boasted four consecutive BCS appearances, back-to-back-title games, a national championship and 34-game win-streak since 2000. Miami was a decorated program that was to give instant credibility to a conference that was tired of playing backseat to the neighboring Southeastern Conference.

Visions of the Hurricanes and Seminoles—a long-time ACC power—meeting annually in the conference championship game; a national-appeal showdown that would arguably rival any other showdown on that first Saturday of December.

Instead, Miami became an afterthought, while Virginia Tech stole the show. The Hurricanes dealt with a coaching carousel situation that kept the program from ever truly getting back on track and the Hokies were Steady Eddie behind a non-flashy leader, who stalled out regarding chasing national championships, but proved masterful at winning conferences with less talent the marquee programs.

Frank Beamer and his lunchpail-style squads took care of business in the mid-to-late nineties—with the Hurricanes on probation—and dominated the Big East until Miami was back on track late in the Butch Davis era, which was eventually handed off to Larry Coker.

With “The U” back on track at the time the ACC came calling, expectations were high for the conference switch. Instead. it was Virginia Tech that’s won the Coastal six times since 2004—including last season; year one under Justin Fuente—while taking the whole thing four times in 13 tries.

A little more salt for Miami to rub in that wound; the fact even Boston College has been crowned division champs—having won the tougher Atlantic Division twice (2007, 2008) since coming over to the ACC in 2005, almost as an afterthought.

Why this trek down nightmare lane? To remind the Canes fam what was at stake when this season kicked off—finally winning the Coastal Division after an 0-for-12 run since joining the ACC.

CANES TAKE SERENDIPITOUS PATH TO EARLY NOVEMBER

Sitting in the Top 10 of the College Football Playoffs is nothing more than a bonus less than two years after Mark Richt returned to Coral Gables and replaced the useless Al Golden.

Florida State was set to roll their division and with an originally-planned September 16th showdown in Tallahassee on the books, many had the Canes losing that showdown and already looking forward to a long-awaited, highly-anticipated rematch in Charlotte on December 2nd.

That notion when to hell in a handbag when the Seminoles got worked by Alabama in the opener and lost a starting quarterback for the season. Toss in a home loss to North Carolina State and the wheels were halfway off when Miami came to town.

Conversely, the Canes were also sideways due the the effects of Hurricane Irma—resulting in a cancelled road game at Arkansas State, a relocation to Orlando to practice, a 21-day layoff and early-October date for the much-anticipated showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Miami scrapped its way to a comeback win against Florida State—and the find-a-way mentality carried over into wins against Georgia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina. No frills. Zero style points.

Lots of wasted energy in games that could’ve and should’ve been decided earlier—but so what? The wins were racked up and the Canes punched their way to 7-0 with Virginia Tech and Notre Dame on deck, at home. Can’t ask for much more than that year two of Richt 2.0 at his alma mater—outside of an all-out effort Saturday night with the Coastal Division on the line.

In racking the brain and going through the annuls of recent Hurricanes history; one has to go back to 2005 to see stakes raised like this—as well as the highest of highs and lowest of lows, that came a result.

A season-opening loss at Florida State wrecked ninth-ranked Miami’s start to a new year—but an eight-game win-streak followed; including a convincing, all-eyes-on-everything, 27-7 win over third-ranked Virginia Tech. The No. 5 Canes rolled in Blacksburg and woke up No. 3 the morning after. A week later, a balls-out, 47-17 win at Wake Forest—setting up a crucial home conference battle against Georgia Tech with the Coastal Division on the line.

FOOTBALL GODS FINALLY SWING PENDULUM IN CANES’ FAVOR

For those with a strong stomach, let’s get into what ensued. In a game that meant everything for Miami—rescheduled for mid-November after Hurricane Wilma pushed off the original mid-October showdown—the Canes stormed the Orange Bowl field under some makeshift lighting for a definitive night game.

Georgia Tech struck first after Miami’s opening drive stalled; 7-0, Yellow Jackets. The Canes pulled ahead, 10-7 at the half—but after a painful third quarter, Miami trailed, 14-10 in a game that saw a scoreless fourth quarter, with Miami punting on three possessions before an interception on the Ramblin’ Wreck’s 27-yard line with 1:38 remaining.

The overall mismanagement and lack of execution could be dissected for years on end, but the real culprit—for those with the stomach to rewatch that awful match-up; a lackluster Canes team that should’ve played like their lives depended upon it, but rolled in flat and indifferent. There was an expectation to win, coupled with an underestimation of what the Yellow Jackets would bring defensively—the feisty Jon Tenuta era, with Chan Gailey as head coach and a far from from today’s flexbone offense.

Delivering with something meaningful on the line. Somewhere along the way, it’s become foreign to Miami football—insane as that may sounds. For well over a decade, the “four fingers” held up before the game’s final fifteen minutes; nothing but fluff and an invitation for an opponent to impose their will.

To Miami’s credit as-of-late; wins against the Seminoles, Yellow Jackets, Orange and Tar Heels all requires some vintage fourth quarter Hurricanes’ muscle. However “The U” found its way to a victory on all occasions—and with two season-defining games on deck, it’s time to lean on that muscle memory en route to victory, should it come down to it.

HOKIES CAPABLE; BUT CANES READY TO BALL OUT

Virginia Tech is playing some good football this season, but nothing next-level. Nothing the Canes can’t handle—at home—if Miami shows up, plays its game and focuses on taking care of business. Everything is on the line and in moments like this, it’s time to find another gear.

To date, this Hurricanes’ season has played out serendipitous for Miami. Florida State postponed and rescheduled after Miami was road-tested agains Duke, while the Seminoles were reeling. Georgia Tech and Syracuse headed south, while North Carolina remains a one-win team in early-November—making for a less-eventual road trip to Chapel Hill.

Now, the week the College Football Playoffs rankings are released—enough of a perceived “snub” to wake the Canes from their slumber, followed by a night game at home against a long-time, hated rival.

Survive and Miami goes into next weekend against Notre Dame as Coastal Division champs and able to focus on something bigger—for the first time since joining the ACC in 2004.

… AND IT ALL BUILDS UP TO THIS MOMENT; HERE AND NOW

As a writer; you live for sub plots such as these, setting up for a storybook narrative and comeback tale for the ages. That said, they call it a page-turner for a reason. No skipping ahead and every sentence or word counts as that story is told.

Miami has an incredible opportunity to exorcise some long-standing demons on Saturday night—against a foe that has broken hearts and crushed spirits over the years. Main stage. Nationally-televised showdown. Rowdy crowd in a newly-renovated stadium built to capture the noise and energy.

No begging for late-season upsets involving rivals, either. This one is winner-take-all, with everything on the line. Bring it, or deal with the consequences.

The critics have called for a Hokies’ victory—and that certainly isn’t out of line, but the prediction seems way-too rooted in the Canes’ slow starts and late rallies. Somehow winning isn’t deemed enough; so maybe this is the week Miami can feed off that raucous come crowd, a perceived “disrespect” and setting the stage for a rise-up moment to take down an old rival on the main stage when an impressive victory means something.

Anybody’s game, but have to trust that home crowd and freaks-come-out-at-night energy Saturday evening at The Rock. No, it won’t be the Orange Bowl—but then again, the OB didn’t make a difference down the stretch in some meaningful moments.

Rise up. It’s an old Big East rivalry and everything is on the line regarding an elusive Coastal Division title. Play to potential, don’t take three quarters to wake up and the Canes can roll. Without that, the home field advantage and late game magic (that hasn’t been thwarted) should still be enough to hang tough.

Miami 24, Virginia Tech 16

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